Blue Water Boat Rebuild

Written by John Contessi


After making the decision I wanted a dedicated Spear fishing boat I began to do the rounds at boat shows.  I quickly realised that there were a lot of ‘budget’ boats around.  Most of the boat builders saying, “No you can’t bolt a 150 two stroke to that.”  The best reply I received was, “Yes I can build that, but it has to have a Kevlar Layer” = Big Buck$. I wanted a strong well made glass hull that would ride well, take a good pounding, and be able to do 40kts plus all day, but also within my “budget” (what “The Wife” would let me spend).

So after talking to a few senior members in the club who had been down the same path, I decided to build or re-build a boat. I knew what I wanted an 18 ft centre console and had decided on three hulls that could do the job, old hand laid hulls that had been used for 15 - 20 years and would go for another 20 more.   Penguin, Pacemaker or Glass Craft, all are W.A made boats for W.A conditions.

 After trolling web sites and papers for about six months and having seen a few that had been beaten to death with cracks running the full length of the hull, or hulls that had been painted so you couldn’t see the nasties underneath, I found a Pacemaker Trendsetter that was in good knick with a few dings that had been fixed well and not hidden, it also came with a good trailer and motor.

The motor was a 90 Johnson with low hours but a little underpowered for the boat, but hey it would do for a while until I can save a few more bucks and fit a decent size power plant on the back.  It had a quarter cabin, but that’s what they make 12 inch grinders for!

Now the fun begins, if you don’t like being covered in fibreglass do not attempt this, it is a dirty, dusty, hot job and you will spend quite a few hours covered in fibreglass with some serious itches. I was lucky I have a massive shed I could do all the work in, well lit and secure.

If you are thinking of attempting this some good advice would be to do it in winter, don’t rush it allow yourself a few good months and have a good plan of what you want to achieve.

I wanted a hard core dive boat that rode well, had ample storage, had enough deck space for four to five mates with all their gear, a boat that should I scratch it, I wouldn’t cry, after all it is a work boat, just a tool for catching fish, not something for sipping chardonnay in at Rotto.

One of the most important things I learnt was, don’t be afraid to ask for advice and help.  It’s a hell of a lot easier to learn off other peoples mistakes.

The first step was to buy all the gear - overalls, heaps of gloves, good industrial grade face mask with good filters, lots of masking tape, then a few new power tools, miles of glass and gallons of resin.

The next step is to pull everything of and out of the boat, wind screen, instruments, controls, seats the whole lot inside and out all that was left was the cabin.

I had to first decide how I was going to form the gunnel rails, this would dictate how and where I cut the cabin off.  Most of the gunnels I had seen had been formed using timber but all the forming and bending would be a long time consuming process, time which I didn’t have.  Quickly looming was an Exmouth trip planned in four months, a trip that I was not going to miss out on.

I was thinking of using something a bit more “modern” maybe nylon, plastic or aluminium.  On a trip up to Greenhead, I was chewing it over with a few of the crew and plastic down pipes were suggested.   Good idea, it has the perfect structural box shape, won’t ever rot and I could run all my cabling down the middle.

Down to Bunnings for a few lengths of 100mm x 65mm gutter down pipe now I can start cutting the things up. Out came the angle grinder and off came the top, leaving part of the deck on the bow for the anchor well , I removed everything  else from the gunnel rails up and cut the rails down to 70mm (width of the down pipe plus a few wraps of glass).  I then cut and ground out everything on the inside, all I wanted was a clean hull,  this took about 5 hours and when I had finished I was standing in about  100mm of fibreglass dust and covered head to toe in it, inside my overalls and in place I definitely didn’t want it, then scratching started.

Next step was to form the gunnel rails.  The stern rails were easy I could keep them straight so all I had to do was to wrap six layers of glass around the down pipe to give it a good amount of strength.  The bow rails were a bit harder as I had to form them to the shape of the bow but a few well placed cuts and a heat gun soon had the pipe formed nicely.  I secured them into the underside of the original rails using stainless self tapping screw and now they are ready to be glassed into place.

This is where mates come in handy.  Barry has done his fair share of boat building so his advice and help would prove to be invaluable. Barry came around and we glassed the rails into place by wrapping them in four layers of glass from the top of the rail to 200mm down the hull of the boat.  That should make them tough enough.

Now for the bow bulk head and anchor well.  I used 12mm construction ply that I marinised (covered in glass), I just had to make a template and transfer it to the ply, cut it out, marinise it and glass it in. The good thing about fibreglass is that it hides all the little mistakes, you can afford to be a few millimetres out.  It’s not a bad idea to have a small gap between the ply and hull so there is room for a small amount of flex so the ply won’t wear against the glass hull.

Next was to put a few good layers on the inside of the anchor well, my boat didn’t have a well so the inside of the hull was not made to have anchor chain bashing against it.  I put about eight layers on the inside of the bow just to be safe and give the old girl a bit more strength in the bow for those nasty days when coming home into the freo doctor.  While I was there I glassed in the chain secure point, I made this overly strong because after a hard days diving there are not many takers to dive down twenty odd meters to drag out a stuck anchor.  I also covered the inside of the well with marine carpet to help absorb the banging of the chain.

I noticed a small amount of rot in the transom but in hindsight I just should of ignored it.  It took about 5 hours to grind out the semi rotted timber and being it was aged Jarrah it was hard work, then I laminated layers of ply and glass together to fill the area left by the rotted timber, then I covered it in about 10 layers of glass to the same form as the transom.  I don’t know if it was worth it as the timber I removed was still very strong (just a little damp) and most likely would not have affected the strength of the transom.

Next was the stern storage and motor well.  I decided to mount the battery on one side and the two stroke oil container on the other to even the weight out a bit and above them would be storage. Basically they are just two big boxes with semi water proof hatch covers, port side for battery, ropes etc...and starboard side for oil and an internal shelf/box to keep spare gear etc.  They are made of 12mm marinised ply that I formed by screwing together with 316 self tappers and then covered with about five layers of glass.  Then I formed the original motor well into the boxes using ply and glass and filled and blended any rough bits with Qcell.  Qcell is a fibreglass dust you mix with resign to form a putty or paste.  I always wore a good respirator when mixing Qcell as you don’t want to inhale it, needless to say it’s very bad for the lungs.  In fact I wore the respirator 90% of the time I was working I didn’t want to inhale any crap, free diving is hard enough without having damaged lungs.

The deck or floor was next.  The stern section had recently been replaced so I didn’t bother lifting the floor as I didn’t expect any damage.  Next was the seats, I used a grinder and ground back the areas where the original seats were, I then filled and reglassed that area paying special attention to where the deck meets the hull.  I ground out the hair line cracks on the inside of the hull and reglassed them.  Qcell came in handy again, I used it to fill any non-structural gaps and filled any imperfections (gotta love Qcell).

Centre console, I like the design of this type of centre console because of the way it ties the side of the hull into the console giving the entire hull heaps more strength.  It also provides storage for life jackets etc, gives you some where to sit while at anchor and when you are motoring you stand up and hang onto a grab rail.

The first step was to figure out where to place the console so as to get a good weight balance and also get the optimum ride.  I cheated a bit as Barry’s hull is almost identical and I used close to the same measurements as his, just an extra inch or two forward as my hull is made to comprise the fuel tank mounted on the bow.   I then glassed the floor under the console and made the channels to let water flow from bow to stern, the floor (where the channels sit) was sanded and few layers of glass added over it for a bit more strength then flow coated to stop any water absorption. Once that was done it was time for the channels, they are made out of left over down pipes used from the gunnel rails that I used for a mould, all I did was to cover them in fibreglass release agent and cover three sides of them in a few layers of glass, once the glass had cured I removed them from the mould, trimmed them up and sealed inside and out with flow coat.  I worked out where to place them keeping in mind the width of the console, etc and glassed them into the floor and covered in another layer of flow coat.

Working out all the angles for the console was a bit of a mind bend so I asked Barry, to help me nut everything out.  We used some styrofoam sheets for templates, taking into account my height for the steering wheel , the height of the gunnel rails, width of hull, etc.  Once we had all the templates I transferred them onto some more 12mm construction ply, cut out the pieces then marinised them on all sides. Before I assembled the console I cut a slit in the underside of the starboard bow rail where the side of the console will join it to run all the control cables and fuel lines through.  Then I just had to stick it all together working from the bottom up. I gave the outside of the console and seats about five layers of glass. I then sanded and trimmed it all back using Qcell to fill all small imperfections. The console had to be strong as it has grab rails for two divers either side of the steering wheel, so I reinforced all the joints with about five extra layers of glass and then sanded down all the rough spots

Sanding down the entire floor and inside of the hull was the next job and one of the worst jobs of all, it has to be extremely clean so the new layers of glass and flow coat has a good base to grip to.  Back on with all the protective gear and a few hours of grinding which killed my grinder (the glass dust is very abrasive to the inside of a grinder).  The job was finished.  I was left standing in about 50mm of fibreglass dust it looked like it had snowed in the boat.  I finish it up by cleaning it with acetone and it’s ready for the glass.

The floor was first, it was in good condition but I decided to cover it in a few decent layers of glass to add some more strength so I would not have to worry about it in the future.  Once that was done it was time for the final preparation before covering the entire hull in flow coat, this meant mixing up a heap of Qcell and filling any last holes. After sanding down any final rough spots there was one last step before the flow coat, that was to mix up a 50/50 blend of flow coat and resin and cover the entire hull.  What this does is, when it dries all the fine fibreglass hairs will stand up making sanding down easy and making any high spots stand out for sanding. Clean that up and it was time for the first layer of flow coat, this is the best part of the job because I could see it all coming together as the flow coat blended everything and hid all the joints.

I applied three layers of flow coat to seal it all really well and help protect the deck from all the dropped weight belts and spear shafts.

Next step was to apply some black fleck over the flow coat, my first attempt failed terribly, when I had just finished flicking the fleck I knocked three litres of acetone into the boat causing a big pool of black resign, I dove in (without respirator) and tried to clean it but all I did was smear it  everywhere after a big dizzy spell from the acetone I decided to clean it all off and start again.

Now it was time to fit the hardware including the hatch covers, bow rails, grab rails, aluminium wear strips and a stainless bow protector I had fabricated.

Again I enlisted some help to fit the hard stuff, Scott,  Barry’s son, a marine mechanic fitted all the controls, GPS sounder and wiring, a job that would have taken me two days took him about 5 hours.

The aluminium fuel tank was one of the last things, I had it made to hold 150 litres of fuel as some of our dive sites are a long way from shore and I didn’t want the hassle of carrying spare fuel cans on those long runs. It was also made very strong to help protect against weigh belts, etc.

The fuel tank was positioned about 70mm forward of the centre console with two 20mm dia aluminium lugs on each upper side tying it to the console, this gap is the perfect place to hold all the fins, I can quite easily jam about 5 sets in there taking them off the floor and keeping them out of the way.

Now it was time to fire her up and to my surprise she started first time, down to the river for a test run with the only glitch being some air in the two stroke oil line, she sat in the water perfectly and came up on the plane easily taking away my fears that she may have been stern heavy but I think I got the weight distribution just about spot on.

A little bit of work on the trailer and then up to Exmouth where she performed perfectly much to Guy’s relief, I only told him at the ramp it was her maiden voyage. She was just a little slow doing 29knts flat out, but she would do for a while.

I finally spat it while running late for a return sign-in at a comp and decide it was time for some more horses.  I decided on a new Yamaha 130 two stroke because an Optimax was out of my price range and their reliability concerns me a little, the Yamaha uses more fuel but is bullet proof, will last for 20 years and you don’t need a full workshop if they do break down at some far off north west dive spot.

Lee another of Barry’s sons fitted the Motor with the only major problem being the transom did not look strong enough to handle the increased torque and horses, after a few hours of head scratching with Barry we decided that the best and easiest way to fix the problem would be to brace it with a big lump of stainless across the engine mounts and entire stern.

After  we cut a few grooves  into the motor well we slid a 200mm wide X 10mm thick length of 316 stainless across the inside of the transom that was almost as long as the width of the boat.  We bolted  the top engine mounts through the transom and stainless bar and then bolted the outer ends of the bar to the transom.  This proved to handle the extra grunt really well without even the slightest sign of stress, now she does 40 knots flat out even with four divers and a load of fish.

The only other work I have done was to upgrade the running gear on the trailer (springs, etc).There are a few small steps I have left out or forgotten and I think I have dribbled on long enough.

I’m not a boat builder, some of my terminology may be incorrect and some of my methods may not be spot on but I built this boat with what I had available and to my budget with the finished product being very close to what I wanted.

So if you haven’t got the bucks to buy a new boat or just can’t find one you want don’t give up just do what I did and start grinding.

Cheers John